Gunma is famous for a bunch of stuff, of which onsens is high up. I checked out a couple with some friends. 宝川 and 伊香保 to be exact. But first, no morning train ride to some far off place is complete without ekiben, those lunch boxes that are only available at the train stations.
I nerded out with a daruma theme. Yes, it was the most expensive one, at 1500 yen, but it came in a ceramic bowl that you can keep. Awesome!
I once got a ceramic chicken as a gag gift at a Christmas party. Instead of throwing it away, I started collecting ceramic chickens. You'd be surprised, it's a thing. Anyways, I have a problem with collecting what can be described as junk. Just thought I'd share.
Inside was some local Gunma grub, like a big bean and some chicken.
My buddy got the C6120 themed set. For those not hip to the scene, the C6120 is an old steam locomotive that was recently revived along a short stretch in northern Gunma.
Looks like the renkon was burnt to a crisp. Neat.
OK, on to the onsen.
Nothing like being greeted by some haikyo at the station. Minakami ain't the greatest, but it's where the bus picks you up. Shitty ramen was eaten. Not enough time to explore the ruined hotels. Sorry Mickey.
Takaragawa is one of the most famous mixed-sex hot springs in the Kanto area. It's been on TV, used in print advertising, and even gained a good reputation with foreigners because some guidebooks or websites or something recommended it. Apparently, soon after the white people started coming, a bunch of creepy Japanese dudes starting going, hoping to see some titties or something. Rad!
The place is fantastic, located in the middle of nowhere along a massive river.
Sorry, but apparently you aren't supposed to make videos of naked people enjoying their bath. Who knew?
When we were shown our room, the old worker pointed across the river to some cages. Two words. 熊, 旨い. Bears, delicious. Yeah, there is a mini bear zoo at the place.
What did he mean with the delicious comment?
Yeah, that's local bear soup. It is said to be very healthy because the bears store nutrients for hibernation. Bon apetit.
Onsen hotels go all out with the food.
It's always local fare. River fish, barbecue, miso stew, pickled, mountain vegetables, tempura, sashimi. Super bomb.
The next day we went an hour south to famous Ikaho onsen. I'd been here ages ago, and remember it was cool. There is this massive stairway in the middle of the town, and in the evening it fills with people. People who have just finished drinking a ton of booze, eating a ton of good food, and enjoying some hot springs. The summertime vibe was chill.
Maybe it was the winter chill, but it was dead this time around.
Also, the town itself suffers from a common onsen city problem in Japan... it's falling apart on the outside. Most mega-famous resort towns in Japan are like this. Atami and Beppu come to mind. What's the deal? The hotels are outdated, and though the rooms are maintained, the exteriors are depressing. And the view of the rest of the town, from up on a hill or on the 10th floor as you consider jumping, is worse. Unused shacks litter the place. Just plain ugly.
But the natural spring water here, which is an unusual brown color, is legit. Drink some local sake and get in.
How about the dinner?
That's a lot of food!
A lot of cold food!
This was definitely a case of quantity over quality. Stale, cold tempura is unacceptable.
This particular hotel seemed to cater to company drinking parties, evident by the off-key karaoke singing that permeated every floor. Drunk people wanna eat. And I suppose this massive pile would be satisfying had I drank a lot more beforehand.
Breakfast the next day was alright.
By the way, Ikaho was ranked #10 in Japan by a recent survey. So I guess I'm wrong when I say that you should go somewhere else.
Very beautiful post.
As for the state of repair of onsen hotels, there is nowhere better to read than 'Spike Japan'. In short, it was all built in 'The Bubble' and there is less and less money from fewer customers every year.
I have been to Takaragawa in winter, but only for the onsen - not to stay. Mixed, eh? Most of the women in were post-menopausal or pre-pubescent, and neither is my kink. What few were of bearing age were wrapped chin to knee in large towels. There was a poor bear when I visited: I did not know it was dinner.
The best onsen for me is any after a day of skiing, cycling or hiking. Don't make the trip for the sake of it; however, at the 2500m top of the Tateyama-Kurobe Alpine Route is an onsen at Murodo. Simple, but nothing like washing off several days of hiking.
I've been to the hot spring in Murodo. And I agree, after a day of hiking it is really great.
Most of the best onsen experiences I have had were after hiking or a long motorcycle ride.
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